The biggest enemy at the Olympics is not Malaysia’s rivals in Tokyo but the coronavirus. If one athlete tests positive, he or she or even teammates, due to close contact, will be taken out of the competition.
This is the risk every country will face from today as they fight for glory behind closed doors in a bizarre Olympics as never seen before. And the 30 Malaysian athletes will have to put their Covid fears aside in the hope of returning home with the country’s first Olympic gold.
If there is something to come for Malaysia in this sport, it will be from two-time Asian champion Khairul Anuar Mohamad who reached the quarter-finals of the men’s recurve at the 2012 London Games.
The archer, however, bowed out in the last 32 four years later in Rio de Janeiro. It will be interesting to see whether he can repeat his 2019 World Championships silver medal effort when he starts his campaign today.
In the women’s event, debutante Syaqiera Mashayikh, who has not even won a Malaysia Games medal, will be competing for exposure. It will be a standout performance if she can win a match in the knockout stage. Both archers will pair up in the mixed team event but are unlikely to make any impact.
Malaysian athletics is riddled with controversies, but high jumper Lee Hup Wei has a chance to douse some of the bad publicity by creating history in Tokyo. No Malaysian has ever featured in a track and field final at the Olympics, and Hup Wei has a chance to end the wait.
Following his success of reaching the final at the 2019 Qatar World Championships, Hup Wei believes he can repeat it in Tokyo. If he can surpass his personal best of 2.29m, he should be able to reach the final, and make the country proud.
However, for debutante Azreen Nabila Alias, who received a wild card for the women’s 100m, nothing much is expected from her.
It will already be a perfect outing if she can dip below 12.00s in Tokyo, and from there, take the confidence for next year’s Vietnam Sea Games and Hangzhou Asian Games.
Being Malaysia’s most successful sport in the Olympics with an overall haul of six silver and two bronze, the nation will bank on the shuttlers to return with at least a medal. While everyone believes All England champion Lee Zii Jia is the one with a real chance to stand on the podium, his compatriots should not be written off.
Men’s doubles Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik are inconsistent but unstoppable when they play their ‘A’ game. If the World No 9 can perform to expectations, they stand a good chance of upsetting the form book. The pair, however, are in a tough group with World No 2 Mohammad Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia), Choi Solgyu-Seo Seung Jae (South Korea) and outsiders Jason Anthony-Nyl Yakura (Canada), with only the top two qualifying for the quarter-finals.
While Soniia Cheah is not expected to go beyond the singles group stage, women’s doubles Chow Mei Kuan-Lee Meng Yean are capable of reaching the quarter-finals. Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying are also eager to repeat their Rio podium finish.
However, all expectations are on Zii Jia to continue Malaysia’s tradition after Lee Chong Wei’s silver efforts in the last three Olympics. He will face some resistance from Brice Leverdez but is expected to beat the Frenchman to top his group for a last-16 clash against defending champion Chen Long of China.
Although it will be tough to repeat their three-silver showing from Rio, the shuttlers definitely have the pedigree to bring back at least a medal.
With 14 podium finishes in his last 20 meets, Azizulhasni Awang, powered by his new WXr-Vorteq bike, is the one to watch in Tokyo. The Terengganu rider has won at least a title in every major event, except in the Commonwealth Games and Olympics.
And after winning Malaysia’s first cycling medal in Rio with a keirin bronze, the Rocket Pocketman hopes to change the colour of his medal to gold at the Izu Velodrome.
However, the pressure to meet expectations could lead to Azizulhasni’s downfall if he does not handle it accordingly ahead of his sprint and keirin events.
Compatriot Shah Firdaus Sahrom, 26, is not a pushover, as he has also notched notable results. He showed his prowess by beating Azizulhasni for the keirin gold at the Australian Championships this year.
Coach John Beasley has prepared both cyclists in every aspect and is confident that Azizulhasni can beat the favourites, including the world leading Dutch riders, for the keirin gold.
We can’t help but notice that there might be two national teams at the Tokyo Olympics — one led by ‘official’ national coach, Christian Brooker, and the other by former national coach, Yang Zhuliang. While Pandelela Rinong, Wendy Ng, Leong Mun Yee and Nur Dhabitah Sabri are already in Tokyo testing the venue under Brooker, former world champion Cheong Jun Hoong is still in Malaysia with Zhuliang training for the 10m platform individual event.
Pandelela is Malaysia’s most successful female athlete in the Olympics. She won Malaysia’s first Olympic medal in diving by clinching bronze in the platform individual at the 2012 London Games. And five years ago in Rio, she and Jun Hoong won the platform synchro silver. However, her feats are no match to Jun Hoong’s World Championships gold medal (platform individual), achieved in Hungary in 2017.
Although the Olympic team have two or three divers who could win medals, there is a decline in the sport as no Malaysian male managed to qualify this time. The overall results at the World Cup in May were below average, except for Pandelela’s win in the platform individual event, achieved without the presence of China divers.
Pandelela-Mun Yee are a medal hope in the platform synchro based on their silver showing at the 2019 World Championships in South Korea. One can also expect a Mexican stand-off between Pandelela and Jun Hoong in the platform individual event, with China expected to dominate the event. As for Wendy and Nur Dhabitah, they are not expected to go far in the 3m springboard.
Gavin Green and Kelly Tan will only make up the numbers at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama against the world’s top golfers. Although they are used to battling it out regularly on the European Tour and LPGA Tour, the duo are not world class. In their Olympic debuts in Rio, Gavin finished 47th while Kelly came in 51st.
Qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics is already a personal victory for Jeremiah Loo and Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, who should use the opportunity to gain confidence and experience.
Both made the cut for the men and women’s individual all-around by doing well at the 2019 World Championships. .
With no targets, Jeremiah and Farah Ann will be competing without pressure, and hopefully, they can achieve a personal best or a good ranking.
Like athletes in other countries, Khairulnizam Afendy (men’s laser radial), Nur Shazrin Latif (women’s laser radial) and Nuraisyah Jamil-Juni Noor Jamali (women’s 470) all lost out on quality training stints and competitions due to Covid-19.
However, even if they had the best training and competitions, they still wouldn’t be contenders for Olympic medals. They will be competing for experience at the Enoshima Yacht Harbour.
Khairulnizam is only competing to improve his ranking after finishing 47th and 35th at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Games respectively. Nur Shazrin is making her second Olympic appearance following her debut in Rio, where she finished 33rd.
This time no foreign journalists will stand in line to interview Nur Suryani Taibi when she takes aim in the women’s 50m rifle three-position in Tokyo. In 2012, she grabbed worldwide attention when competing in the 10m air rifle at the London Games while heavily pregnant.
The attention from the international media affected her focus as she failed to make the final. This time, Suryani is unlikely to get much attention, and this could be a blessing in disguise for her. A medal will be impossible, but she has enough experience to make the final.
Welson Sim and Phee Jinq En are Malaysia’s record holders in their respective events but relatively unknown outside Southeast Asia. Welson, a national record holder in three freestyle events, will compete in the men’s 200m and 400m while the US-based Jinq En will take on the world’s best swimmers in the 100m and 200m breaststroke. With no chance of qualifying beyond the heats, they are there just to rewrite national records.-NST